Most of you know I live in Hokkaido, Japan. What you might not know is that, over the course of my year and a few months working here as an English teacher, I've been very lovingly adopted by a family that runs a cafe down the street from my house. They have two amazing kids, a boy and a girl, who I tutor in English; and they've invited me to their home for countless holiday dinners and feed me for free at their restaurant once or twice a week.
Their kids are just wonderful: bright, friendly and affectionate. They've become like cousins to me, and I hugely enjoy spending time with them, teasing, teaching, having straw-paper blowdart battles and pantomimed martial arts scuffles.
Every so often, for the fun of picking easy English phrases ("Look out!" "Hey!" "Hi, I'm ..." "cold", "hot", "stop", "help", etc.) out of a real show, we watch movies together...and one of the American shows they've really taken to is A:tLA. More often than not, they've begged their dad for an extra half hour on our tutoring evenings so we can watch just one more episode. The little sister, age ten, wants to be an airbending Avatar herself; her older brother, age twelve, has firmly decided he's a firebender.
This spring, our bright and vivacious firebender entered middle school--the one that I teach at. This fall, I found out he'd been being severely bullied, without my knowledge or that of most of the other teachers. Two weeks ago, he was pulled out of school.
This morning, I got an email from his parents. They've decided to send him to an intensive language school for the gifted, something he's wanted to do ever since he exchange studied in Canada a few years ago. The school in question is headed by a trusted old friend of his father, and his father is bringing him in person, to ease the transition a little. Half an hour ago, they both came to my house to say goodbye--his father will be down there for a week, the boy for eight months.
The school is in Okinawa.
I am, at the same time, so proud of him, so worried about him, so suddenly shocked at how much I'll miss him. I'm praying so hard he'll see this as an adventure, something amazing and fun, and not an exile into lands unknown.
This is my kiddo, you guys. The boy who first introduced himself to me in English, adding with a grin, "Call me Spidey." He likes dousing hot-pepper oil on his spaghetti, he draws gifted caricatures, he cracks up and mutters "Aho..."
(moron) every time Aang crashes into that statue in the opening sequence. He high-fived me today with a constantly morphing expression of both happiness and apprehension; looked over his shoulder and waved both arms triumphantly at me as he stepped off my porch to go. And his sister...they're only two years apart, and they've never been separated so long.
Send good vibes, you guys. Send all you can manage of the love these kids are gonna need. He's my neighbor and my adopted cousin, but I think it's fair to ask you guys, too. After all, he's also one of us.